A letter of support for Pope Francis’ “pastoral initiatives and their theological justification” has now been published at pro-pope-francis.com.
This letter was written and released in response to the Correctio filialis of the Pope, now signed by 250 academics and clerics, including Bishop Fellay.
Text of the Letter of Support
Dear highly esteemed Pope Francis,
“Your pastoral initiatives and their theological justification are currently under vehement attack by a group in the church. With this open letter, we wish to express our gratitude for your courageous and theologically sound papal leadership.
“In a short time, you have succeeded in reshaping the pastoral culture of the Roman Catholic Church in accordance with its origin in Jesus. Wounded people and wounded nature go straight to your heart. You see the church as a field hospital on the margins of life. Your concern is every single person loved by God. When encountering others, compassion and not the law shall have the last word. God and God’s mercy characterize the pastoral culture that you expect from the church. You dream of a "church as mother and shepherdess." We share your dream.
“We ask that you would not veer from the path you have taken, and we assure you of our full support and constant prayer.”
The website currently lists approximately 700 signatories, and claims an additional 28,813 supporters.
While the letter seems to be a response to the publication of the Correctio filialis, which it characterizes as a “vehement attack” on the Pope, it makes no attempt to engage with the arguments of the Correctio. The letter of support merely refers to an unspecified “theological justification” of the Pope’s initiatives as well as his “theologically sound” leadership, without further explanation.
Readers of the letter might perceive in this an attempt to shift the discussion away from fidelity to doctrine, choosing instead to focus on loyalty to the person of the Pope.
Who Are the Signatories?
In his article “The Correctio filialis and the Laudatio of Pope Francis,” published on October 18, 2017 on blog Rorate Caeli, Roberto de Mattei examines the signatories of the letter of support. Heavily Austo-German, a number of them appear to have expressed opposition to Church teaching in the past.
Some have supported married priests and even the ordination of women, including Bishop Fritz Lobinger, Fr. Carl-Peter Klusmann, and Christian Weisner. Fr. Paul Zulehner was among those who in 2011 “supported the ‘appeal to disobedience’ launched by 329 Austrian priests, favouring married priests, priestly ordination for women, the right for Protestants and the divorced and remarried to receive Communion and for the laity to preach and lead parishes.”
Martin Lintner is a Servite who wrote a book called The Rediscovery of Eros. De Mattei quotes him as saying in 2016:
We can no longer say that today there is a categorical exclusion from receiving the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation for those in a new union, who don’t abstain from sexual relations. Of this there is no doubt, on the basis of the text of A.L. [Amoris Laetitia] itself."
The Catholic Herald reports that a number of the signatories have sustained anti-life positions with regard to Catholic teaching on contraception and abortion, including philosophers Charles Taylor and Gerard Hughes, S.J., and Prof. Thomas O’Loughlin.
One of the signatories, Martha Heizer, head of the Austrian branch of the We Are Church movement, was excommunicated by Pope Francis in 2014 together with her husband for celebrating “Masses” in their home without a priest.
An Exercise of Heroic Virtue
While those who have signed the Correctio filialis are fewer by far than those who have signed the letter in support of Pope Francis, Roberto de Mattei quotes St. Paul as reassurance to those who might feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of those who oppose the true teachings of Christ.
At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their charge. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching may be accomplished, and that all the Gentiles may hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion”. (2 Timothy 4, 16-17).
Professor de Mattei offers his own encouragement as well to those who, isolated, continue to bear witness to the truth:
The fact of being just a few - misunderstood and persecuted - is permitted by Divine Providence in order to increase the merits of the witnesses to the Faith and render their behavior not only right and proper, but also holy and heroic. What else is the exercise of heroic virtue but the accomplishing of one’s duty in exceptional circumstances, not counting on our own strength, but on the help of God?"
The Fundamental Division: Christ’s Church, or a New Church?
Ultimately, the question is not whether Catholics are for or against Pope Francis. What matters is whether we are for or against the teaching of Jesus Christ, passed on faithfully by the Magisterium.
As Roberto de Mattei says:
It is clear at this point that the deep division running through the Church is not between the detractors and fans of Pope Francis. The breaking line runs between those who are faithful to the immutable Teaching of Popes and those who are complaining to [Pope Francis] for pursuing the “dream” of a new church, different from the One founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ."